This week we had a sit down with Access For All, a Changing Places campaigner and supporter, who provide much needed training across the country.
This training focuses on the need for accessible changing facilities in public spaces and how they can make the lives of those with access needs that bit better.
We set up Access For All UK along with our registered charity, Accessible Derbyshire, in 2014. We have six children between us, three of whom are disabled, and know first-hand the challenges that this can bring. We wanted to do something to make life easier for families like our own and set up Accessible Derbyshire, to improve accessibility in Derbyshire and the Peak District.
Access For All UK was set up later in the same year in response to the demand for our expertise. We now work with organisations large and small in all sectors throughout the U.K. who want to improve their accessibility.
Our clients include the National Trust, VisitEngland, The Peak District National Park, Marketing Peak District and Derbyshire, the Trans-Pennine Trail, Chatsworth House, Sheffield Hallam University, The Lake District Estates, Lightwater Valley and the multi award-winning Sandcastle Waterpark in Blackpool, to name a few.
We are also founder members of the England Inclusive Tourism Action Group, who produce guidelines for the tourism industry on welcoming people with access needs, and are reviewers for the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain. Most recently, we were delighted to accept the position of Honorary Executives in Residence at Sheffield University and Sheffield Business School.
We have been Changing Places campaigners since 2003 — well before the launch of the official campaign which began in 2006. We gave the Changing Places campaign its first mention on television when we appeared on BBC Breakfast in 2014 and we brought the first debate on Changing Places to parliament the following year.
We also initiated National Changing Places Day which now happens on 19th July each year and which last year became World Changing Places Day.
We are the only organisation in the U.K. to provide Changing Places training free of charge to organisations who are interested to know more about these vital facilities, and are delighted with the support that IHus have given to make this training possible.
During 2019 our plan is to continue to highlight the need for Changing Places toilets in venues across the U.K. In addition, we are very keen for organisations who already have a Changing Places toilet to promote the fact on their website and in their printed material so that disabled people are aware of the fact they have a facility and are given the confidence to visit.
Absolutely! Our children have been our inspiration as well as our greatest teachers. Jane’s daughter Megan is 21 and was born with a unique chromosome disorder, severe autism and learning difficulties. Gillian’s son Sam is 20 and had a stroke before he was born. He is autistic and has cerebral palsy. Gillian’s son Tom was severely brain-damaged shortly after birth as well as having Di Georges’ syndrome. He was a wheelchair user all his life and needed constant care. Tom very sadly passed away in 2017 at the age of 21.
As parents we were determined to make something positive come out of the fact that our children were disabled. Separately, we fundraised for causes close to our children’s hearts, raising over £1.25 million between us for three playgrounds and a swimming pool at Ashgate Croft Special School in Chesterfield, which our children then attended. Gillian then went on to support Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice and Jane went on to campaign for Changing Places.
We knew each other from meeting at a few school events and soon recognised that we were both driven by the same things and had a lot in common. We always though that one day we might do something together and in 2013 that became a reality. We love what we do and it is great to feel that we are helping to make a difference – as well as having a lot of fun!
For people like our children, just getting out of the house can be a challenge. Before we go out anywhere we spend a lot of time researching the places we are hoping to visit to see if they will be suitable for us – and we are not alone.
Euan’s Guide, the ‘TripAdvisor’ for disabled people, carry out an Access Survey to gauge the views of disabled people and those who support them. In 2017 they found that 95% of disabled people will try to find out access information about a place before they visit. What’s more, if they can’t find it, 47% will assume that a venue is not accessible and will choose to go elsewhere.
Once we get to a venue, factors such as a lack of accessible parking spaces and ramps can present difficulties as can the absence of hearing loops and other equipment. For autistic visitors, having no ‘quiet space’ can generate problems too.
The lack of suitable toilet provision can make life particularly difficult. Euan’s Guide found that 53% of disabled people find this problematic.
This lack of certainty about whether a venue will be suitable creates a lot of anxiety and puts a lot of disabled people off travelling.
In fact, the Access Survey found that 92% of disabled people do not feel confident about visiting new places. As a result, disabled people and those who support them tend to either visit the same places over and over again or not go out very much at all.
The impact on disabled people can be loneliness, social isolation and sometimes depression.
At the same time, venues are missing out on additional visitors and the revenue they bring.
Accessible tourism in the U.K – tourism where one or more members of a party is disabled – is currently worth £12.1 billion in the U.K. Imagine the potential if all tourism venues were accessible!
What about toilet access for people with severe disabilities – have you seen the impact a lack of suitable facilities can have on people?
Without Changing Places toilets, severely disabled people have the choice between not going out, just going out for a couple of hours at a time or face the prospect of being changed on a public toilet floor, something which is unhygienic, undignified and unacceptable in 21st century Britain.
We have both had to change our children on toilet floors over the year and there really is nothing worse. Most of us wouldn’t even like to have to put a bare foot on a toilet floor, let alone the rest of our body and when you are faced with the reality of having to do this, it really is quite depressing.
Apart from toilet floors, we have had to change our children on the back seat or boot of our cars, behind bushes and on one occasion on the tarmac at an airport surrounded by suitcases to try to create just a little privacy. Another parent we know had to cordon off an underpass with the help of others so that she could change her son in there.
If there were more Changing Places toilets, severely disabled people and those who support them could get out and about and enjoy life to the full: something which most people take for granted.
It would mean that they could leave the house with confidence and spend a full day out with family and friends doing the things they love. This would have a massive impact on their health and well-being and that of the whole family.
What sort of businesses could be improved with the addition of Changing Places toilet facilities?
Any destination or venue where visitors are likely to spend time should have a Changing Places toilet. This includes town centres, shopping centres, railway stations, motorway services, hospitals, football clubs, theatres, leisure centres, supermarkets and cinemas etc.
As well as having a positive impact on the health and well-being of disabled people, venues which install a Changing Places toilet see an increase in visitor numbers. This increase is not solely in the numbers of disabled people who visit but in general visitor numbers.
In deciding where to visit, parties with a disabled member are driven to those places which welcome the disabled person, so businesses don’t just benefit from the spend of the disabled person, they benefit from the spend of the entire party. What is more, when disabled people find somewhere that is welcoming, the 2017 Access Survey found that 86% will make a return visit.
Without doubt, the provision of Changing Places is the key enabler for the biggest piece of social change in a generation. We are incredibly proud to be a part of that and want to support any organisation who would like to get involved.
Changing Places are not just toilets: they are the key to a world of opportunity to those who need them and those who support them.
By providing Changing Places, organisations are making a huge difference to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Changing Places really do change lives.
Jane Cooper and Gillian Scotford run Access for All UK. Its aim is to improve the lives of disabled people in the UK by providing access consultancy, training, auditing and business support services.
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